Rice Engineers advance to DOE’s EnergyTech UP national competition

Team presents a winning business plan for commercializing Rice-made energy technology.

Team Separion

A team of Rice engineers from the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE) has advanced to the national round of the 2024 American-Made EnergyTech University Prize (EnergyTech UP) competition. The Rice team, Separion, presented their innovative energy solution in the Texas Regional competition February 28, winning first prize and the chance to compete at the national level.

The EnergyTech UP competition is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Technology Transitions. In this competition, teams present their solutions for promising energy technology, assess the market potential, and create a business plan for commercialization. 

Separion proposes a business plan to commercialize the “LiSED”—Lithium Selective ElectroDialysis system crafted in the research group of Qilin Li, CEE professor and co-director of the NEWT Center. The LiSED system is designed to harvest lithium sustainably and affordably in order to meet the growing lithium demand as the world transitions to a low-carbon economy.

This technology has the potential to replace existing methods in lithium recovery by extracting lithium from untapped sources—such as lithium-containing geothermal brine and oil- and gas-produced water—at a fraction of the cost. The impact of lower-cost lithium sources could mean more affordable electric vehicles and solar and wind energies, as well as reduced dependence on foreign imports.

“We are excited for the opportunity to showcase our innovative solutions and represent both the CEE Department and Rice University as well as the entire Texas region,” said Maximilian Cobos, Ph.D. student and member of team Separion. 

In addition to Cobos, team Separion includes Ph.D Candidate Yuren Feng and recent alumni Dr. Xiaochuan Huang ’23 and Dr. Ze He ’24. The team is mentored by Dr. Qilin Li. They will compete in the final round at the Energy Thought Summit in Austin, Texas, April 15-18.